Friday, February 27, 2009

The Paroxysms of Mourning

As regards:

This Anthony Kaufman article (click image or here) is upsetting on two levels — (1) the thrust of its worry (the cinema vanishing — I completely empathize, as, in the abstract, how wouldn't this be worrying?); (2) its weird admixture of fear-mongering (for all-the-cinema vanishing is, in the proposed context of video/digital, an essentially abstract fear), misinformation, and a typically snobbish New York-centrism (that courses likewise through most of the English-language-cinephile-Internet).

Some facts:

Greed has been in the works for a 2009 DVD release from Warner Bros. for some time, and will yet see the light of day. There is not a proverbial-snowball's chance that Greed, hackneyed though it may extantly be, will never see a digital home-video/VOD release.

— It's well known that The Magnificent Ambersons (hackneyed though it may extantly be) has been in the queue for a specifically-2009 release from Warners for a long time. Ditto, for that matter, Journey into Fear.

— Not so much a fact-just-yet, but I believe Providence is in the works for a restoration / new telecine (if it hasn't already happened). But come on: an Alain Resnais feature not getting a release, ever, on home-video/VOD? Really? If that's ever the case, I'll have to remember to modify my scorecard: "La Vie est un roman = check. Providence = here the gods did conspire..."

— The status of the Fullers and the Borzage has already been mentioned by one 'cadavra' in the comments section of Kaufman's essay.

— As noted within the article, Mizoguchi's Tale of Late Chrysanthemums is a Janus property, and will almost certainly see a Criterion or Eclipse release in the near'ish future. In the meantime, an English-subtitled version circulates by way of other venues.

— As for the two Tourneur films: molted starlings augur us good these pictures see similar light of day.

— Ditto for Antonioni's Chung-kuo (and then some). (In the meantime, cinephiles of every stripe can keep taking a big poo on The Dangerous Thread of Things.)

I understand that the impulse to point to such high-profile titles' absence on DVD is hard to overcome, especially when one's entire essay depends on such exhibits for the crux of prosecution — but anyone who's done a little bit of time in the cinephile trenches, no matter the nation, knows you can pop over to the easily searchable Criterion Forum website (which, it must be stressed, holds no affiliation with The Criterion Collection), located here, and check in on the buzz/gossip/status around hundreds of forthcoming catalogue releases from any of the major, or boutique, DVD labels based around the world.

As for the inevitable disappointment that Kim's massive library is leaving the city: yes, this is sad news for New Yorkers. Yet I wonder if this news is the kind-of-'sad' that necessitates all mentions of the library's move exist in the vicinity of phrases (bywords) like "a small Sicilian town" or elsewhere "an obscure Italian town." It's like the Sicilians receiving access to the trove are but merest country-bumpkins, humans to be sure but of an ilk that has no business reaping the riches of discovery that this library can yield for viewers of any background — while presumption dictates the library was assembled "by(?) New Yorkers — for New Yorkers."

Parallel to my disgust for this idea resides a total odium for the implication that the closure of the St. Mark's store marks a death-blow for cinephilia-as-general-concept — as though any talk of the since-video-existed dearth of access to many of these titles for the large majority of 'film-buffs' (and non-'film-buffs' alike) who have lived, out of necessity or by choice, in non-NYC / non-urban regions of the United States and other countries, and who never had easy access to these titles to begin with, would only underscore the complaints, and implicitly distasteful rurality, of a Statistically Inconvenient Other.

Of course, it's well known, outside of New York, that the NYC-as-Center-of-the-Universe Virus afflicts discourses ranging from the entire zone of modern visual-art, all the way over to "where can I find the perfect carrot-cake." But if we were to hold focus squarely on The Death of Cinema: Last Week of February 2009 Style, one curio we'd end up resolving would be a rather odd piece — getting a lot of 'viral' play, I should add — by the producer Ted Hope, written for the Tribeca Film Festival website, and readable here. A friend sent this to me earlier in the week, and given that the essay begins with the sentence —

"I love New York City and hope I never have to call anywhere else my home."

— it triggered enough outrage that I emailed back to my friend the following post-haste:

TED HOPE: "Filmmakers will always be able to make the super low budget films here, but will they be able to make the ones that are decently financed enough to catapult them to the world stage? Will they even be able to afford to live here?"

I would ask: "Whose 'world-stage'?" I would ask: "What are the entry-rules for the 'world-stage' Hope is referring to?" And, from a more utopian place, I would ask: "What are the
aesthetic requisites for entry onto that so-called 'world-stage'?" Yet not so merely utopian: for practically no money at all (that is, literally, practically no money at all: not a single low-six-figure budget, let alone a comfy American 'indie' one-million-dollar fund), Jean-Marie Straub, Pedro Costa, Albert Serra, etc., make 'world-stage' films that might not exude the buzz-auras garnered by a Golden Lion, or by those vile festival 'audience awards' — instead, they make films that 'only' get them awarded one-off screenings in the Museum of Modern Art, Anthology Film Archives, or indeed 'Special Lifetime-of-Service Mentions' — but their films will live long after Spike Lee's, or the Coen brothers', have devolved into grey footnotes one hundred, two hundred, three hundred years from now. Furthermore, the means of production have absolutely shifted: an invocation of 'one-off screenings' is no longer consonant-parlance for 'ghetto' — if anything, it's an RSS-fed and/or weekly-newspaper publicity event, which can spur a local audience to attend as usual, and a wider/extra-urban public to investigate the films digitally, and via stream. ("But there's no substitute for the hyper-resolution projection!" old-timers spit, and with fair reason — but this is itself narrow-minded, and fails to envision what 'a stream' will connote even ten years from now, never mind fifteen.) All of this further compounds the fact in 2009 and forward (especially, again, ten/fifteen years from now) that no-one has a gun to any artist's head to have to live in New York — a time draws nigh when the geographical positioning there 'in' the physical city will be, frankly, economically untenable for any non-$chnabel-level artist. And yet that's hardly a cause for mass-distress — America relentlessly, incessantly evolves, and new communities are constantly created and re-created — indeed, the micro-communities are abundant, are progressive, and their respective qualities of life exceed myriad aspects of New York-living even in the gnarly-mercurial present. This New York grass-roots-with-a-budget cinema thing was once a spirited reality, is now a wonderful midday dream, and will in the long run fold into some much more 'illusory' metaphor.

Perhaps Hope should stop living in some world-of-the-half-myth, where the end-all 'independent' gods are comprised of Ang Lee, Spike Lee, Alan Ball, Michel Gondry... As far as I'm concerned, those filmmakers exist only insofar as their films' box-office might line the pockets of producers with a bit of scratch to pass on to artists who have absolutely no 'commercial' value whatsoever — but of course, in America, this is never the case.

And Orson Welles remains rotting.

That's just a brief, and gut, reaction to the hopeless myopia (even within an NYC-filmmakers-context) of Hope's piece, and it certainly warrants more, and deeper, elaboration than I've provided above — either by someone else, or by me-myself in, say, the aforementioned-on-this-blog (and long-overdue) Frownland essay. For my purposes in this post, a summary must suffice: the very premise of 2009 New York as Cultural-Lifestyle Apotheosis just seems so... wildly off.

But back, finally, to a last niggling argument put forward in the Kaufman article: that the putatively irretrievable titles dormant on the VHS cassettes* of the Kim's library will probably never exist "legally, and in pristine form." A jolly-good point (for Kaufman's presumably not talking here about an Antonioni's Chung-kuo or a Resnais's Providence; rather, things more mondo and Wishman'y) — but I would ask: Given that peer-to-peer downloadable bootlegs of many obscure VHS copies of films circulate freely (and make no mistake: Cinephile, that terribly rabid species, always learns what it takes to get a hold of these movies), isn't the onus on the curators of such collections to do their part and figure out the steps in digitizing these analog sources, then putting them back into the world? (See, for example, UbuWeb, whose screens will only grow larger, higher-in-resolution.) The alternative scenario, seldom considered out-loud by Kaufman or critics of the (very real) inequality between 'legal' VHS and DVD sources, would actualize, necessarily, a nightmare realm in which organizations such as the thankfully-defunct "GoodTimes Home Video" or "Fox Lorber" step forth to acquire the licenses for these low-visibility films and, in the process, tie up the rights on these properties for x years (or theoretical perpetuity), regardless of any emergence, in the interim, of new media, and/or of new and interested ventures that manifest an expressly cinephilic and preservational approach.

When Kim's — or any film institution — goes under, the immediate, and (for me) greatest loss is that of the income depended upon by the businesses' dislodged staff. But an appraisal of the situation taken from a more distant vantage would affirm what's already evident in home parlors and screening-rooms, by the light of the respective screens: The Times Have Changed, and not necessarily for the worse.

*We must remember this was the medium that, from Day One of its existence, only ever begat artifacts — in both the sense of magnetic-head corrosion, and of the cassette-as-horrifying-object-in-the-world.



  1. Thanks for the refreshing lucidity, Craig.

    And, Oshima-phile tho you may not be, for what it's worth I have a pretty nice, not great but nice copy of Cruel Story Of Youth on my hard drive (will "they" come after me ?) not that I can remember where it came from (I must have absent-mindedly clicked on a pop up......)

    -Small World

  2. I threw some other corrections in the comment section as well.

  3. You know, the more I think about this - and in the context of New Yorker Film's going OOB - the more it seems we see the demise of a distribution/exhibition system that ultimately served to **block contact between the films and their viewers** ---

    --Should we say, in retrospect, Langlois was the inventor of 'Analog torrents' ??

    random thoughts out loud --


  4. wonderfully put, on a topic i've been thinking about quite a bit myself lately.

  5. SW: Langlois was indeed the mastermind of the analog torrent — just google for photos of his tombstone.

    We could do with a torrent or a trickle of our own to wash down Witherspoon. I have one idea for a possible in-road to this, btw. Once I finish this latest project I'll soundboard it off you.

    Thanks for the Oshima offer, btw. I'm going to have to decline for the time being as I'm still swimming in a pile of Ford...

  6. Or, I should say (and quit mixing my metaphors while drinking SW double-caps) — "still swimming in Ford's *sundry seas beneath*."

    Seas Beneath is, incidentally, a marvelous film — one of those lovely pre-Doctor Bull talkie-Ford gems. (Pilgrimage is the zenith in that category.)

  7. Craig I thought Oshima was your nemesis ? (My spel-chekker wants to substitute OSHA, sorry, not a chance :)

    All this will become clear I'm sure, and just let me know re The Torents of Witherspoon

    (and somehow I'm not getting through Cruel Story Of Youth; I lke *looking* at it.... dunno.....)



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